There are an amazing variety of parks in the centre of Rome: from the vast green meadows, to the monumental gardens decorated with beautiful fountains and monuments. Some of those “green oases” are marvelous and a must-see to discover another aspect of the Eternal City.
Beloved by both locals and tourists, those parks are a great spot where to play sports, organize picnics, have pleasant long walks or just sit on a bench reading a book surrounded by the nature. But the most important peculiarity of these green open spaces is that some of them are structured around important monuments and architectural complexes, called villas, which once were residences of emperors, kings, popes or royal families.
So, here is a list of the Top 5 (+1) Villas in Rome and in its surroundings that should absolutely be on your list of the things to visit!
Located in the very centre of Rome, Villa Borghese is the third largest park in the city, after Villa Doria Pamphlj and Villa Ada (respectively n°2 and 6 on this list). You can access the park from nine entrances that are spread over three different districts: the Pinciano, Flaminio and Salario. The enchanting park is not only trees and wide open green space, but it houses several buildings, sculptures, museums, fountains, ponds, formal gardens, a theater, academies and cultural institutions renowned around the world.
The estate was owned by the Borghese family since 1580. Over the following centuries, the villa was enlarged and transformed until it was purchased by the Italian State in 1901 and sold to the municipality of Rome in 1903, when it was finally open to the public permanently until today.
The main building of the villa is the Borghese Gallery, was built by the architect Flaminio Ponzio and is now one of the most important museums of the city as it hosts the works of Bernini and Antonio Canova, as well as paintings by Tiziano, Raffaello and Caravaggio. The gallery is best to be visited through a guided tour with skip-the-line tickets… An eXPerience not be missed!
The villa is also home to the zoological garden of Rome and “The Cinema dei Piccoli", which is the smallest movie-theatre in the world (record certified by the Guinness World Records Ltd. in 2005). Since 2003, the Villa Borghese is also home to the “Silvano Toti’s Globe Theatre”, which is a reconstruction of the original Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.
Among the various possible activities, we suggest a romantic boat ride on the lake or to stop at the Terrazza del Pincio for a breathtaking view of Rome and terrific picture opportunities at sunset.
The Villa Doria Pamphili, like many other city parks, was originated from the country estate of a noble Roman family, which was then transformed into a public park.
With its 184 hectares is the largest park in all the city of Rome and is one of the best preserved villas in Italy as it still retains, after the years, its particular 17th-century architectural structure and the main characteristics of the 700 and 800. It was designed by the sculptor Alessandro Algardi and the painter Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi. It is also the representative office of the Italian Government.
The villa is located on the Janiculum hill, dedicated to the god Janus, and offers visitors a skating rink, a polo field (which, however, is used to play football by locals!) and two footpaths for most sports.
The complex of Villa Doria Pamphili currently consists of three different parts: the “pars urbana”, including the Palace and surrounding gardens; the “pars fructuaria”, composed of the pine forest; the “pars rustica”, which is considered part of the real working farm. Inside the park there is also a water course that reaches in a lake with a small island in the centre.
The Villa Torlonia, located in the Nomentano district, is one of the most elegant villas in Rome. Only in 1797 the Torlonia family decided to buy this beautiful estate, which originally belonged to the Pamphili family and then to the Colonna family. The transformation of the villa, from a gigantic farm to an actual royal residence was entrusted to the architect Valadier, who has built several buildings inside the complex.
After a long period of neglect, the villa in the twenties became the residence of the Mussolini family, who remained there until 1944. Until 1947 it was occupied by the Anglo-American troops. In 1977 it was acquired by the Municipality of Rome and turned into a public park.
Today, the Villa Torlonia has regained its former glory and is home to three exhibition areas: the Casina della Civetta (“hoot owls”), built in Art Nouveau style, dedicated to the “Museum of Artistic Glass”; the Casino Nobile, which houses the “Museum of the Villa” and the splendid collection of the Roman Art School; the Casino dei Principi, formerly connected with an underground passage to the main building, headquarters of the Roman School and space for temporary exhibitions.
In addition, inside the Villa Torlonia you can find a children's playroom (called “Technotown”), a very nice restaurant (La Limonaia) and a newly renovated theater that offers a rich program of shows and hosts conferences, exhibitions and cultural events.
The splendid Hadrian’s Villa (in Italian “Villa Adriana”) is located in Tivoli, a small town a few kilometers from Rome. Declared Word Heritage Site by UNESCO this extraordinary monumental complex still conserves the typical opulence of the places of power in ancient Rome.
Commissioned by Emperor Hadrian as his residence from 117 AD, the Hadrian’s Villa was built in the vicinity of the Tiburtini Mountains, an area full of water, where four of the ancient aqueducts that served Rome flowed. Nearby, still exists the sulfur springs called Albule (also known today as “the Tivoli’s bath”), appreciated by both tourists and locals.
The villa consists of a series of interconnected buildings, each of which had a specific function: the emperor wanted to replicate places and monuments that had fascinated him during his several travels. Within the complex there are many places of interest: the Pecile, a huge garden, surrounded by a colonnade with a central pool and used for pleasant strolling; the Canopus, a long water basin adorned with columns and statues which culminates with a temple; and the remains of two Roman baths.
Furthermore, there are lots of other well-preserved monuments such as the academy, the stadium, the imperial palace, the Hall of philosophers, the greek theater and the Golden Square. There is so much to see that we suggest a private guided tour, which will give you the opportunity to learn a huge amount of art and history of ancient Rome!
Just like the Hadrian’s Villa (n°4 on this list), also Villa d'Este is located in Tivoli, and has been declared Word Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is considered a masterpiece among the Italian Baroque Gardens, because of the impressive concentration of fountains, nymphs, grottoes and waterfalls. But this monumental park is also renowned for its extraordinary landscape, as well as the artistic and historic heritage that includes important ruins from ancient Rome.
The Villa d’Este was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, after the disappointment for failing to papal election, to revive the splendor of the courts of Rome. The imposing buildings above the terraces are an impressive architectural masterpiece, while the the rooms of the palace were beautifully decorated by the greatest artists of the Roman Mannerism school. Over the centuries the villa has been damaged and consequently restored with a series of innovations to the gardens and the monuments.
If you want to admire this delightful complex and its several treasures we recommend an excursion to Villa d’Este, which will give you the opportunity to visit the Hadrian’s Villa too. Although not in the centre of Rome, those two magnificent villas are easily reachable with a comfortable private transfer from the capital to Tivoli. Make sure to put them in your list of the “things to do in Rome”!
The Villa Ada is the second largest public park in Rome, right after Villa Doria Pamphili (n°2 on this list). It is located in the north of the city centre, in the Salario district. It has long been the residence of the Savoia Royal Family and includes several buildings from different eras and different styles.
It’s a very beloved villa by both locals and visitors, who love spending their weekends doing sports, jogging, work out along the equipped trails or just enjoy the nature with a long walks along the lake.
In summer, the Villa Ada is home to an International Music Festival which features singers and bands from all over the world. An eXPerience not to miss if you are in Rome during the summer!